If diversity is what you crave in politics, you have it in this election. In the four candidates who will appear at the OurWeekly Mayoral Forum Saturday at Brookins A.M.E. Church, there is an African American, three White Americans, Jews, a gay, women and men. All but one of the candidates has a sizable track record in politics. The other is an attorney who has worked for one of the world’s largest law firms and is a former U.S. prosecutor.
You can call her “Valley girl” if you like, because Wendy Greuel has lived in the San Fernando Valley all her life. She’s proud of the 10 years she spent working for Mayor Tom Bradley, where she developed her love of politics.
“Everything that I am today was [from] that time working for Mayor Bradley,” said Greuel. “My gut of what to do and how to solve problems came from him.”
From 1993 to 1997, she worked at the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the Clinton Administration, serving under Cabinet Secretary Henry Cisneros.
Greuel then joined the corporate affairs department at DreamWorks Movie Studios from 1997 to 2002 [while there she met her husband-to-be, Dean Schramm], but her romance with politics never ended. Soon she was back in city government as Councilwoman for the second district in the northeast portion of the Valley. She took office in April 2002, and served on the Council for seven years, during which time she chaired both the transportation and the audit committees, and served on the budget committee.
Since 2009, Greuel has succeeded Laura Chick as city controller, a critical position as auditor and general accountant of the city budget. As controller, she’s charged with watching over the city’s finances, reigning in unnecessary spending and eliminating government waste.
Ask her what she sees as the city’s major problem, Greuel quickly answers “jobs and economic development.”
“Many of the challenges that the city faces–which are revenue and expenditure problems as to how you balance your budget–relate to how you create a job,” she said. “Like Father Greg Boyle [executive director of Homeboy Industries] says, ‘There’s nothing that stops a bullet like a job.’ If someone has a job, they’re going to be able to go out and provide for their family; they’re going to be able to buy things which, of course, means we have more revenue in the city, and we’re able to go out and buy things for the residents of Los Angeles.”
Greuel says working with Bradley she learned to encourage small businesses. “It was about providing them the resources,” she says. “So that began my journey to address that. We did business tax reform–everything from cutting business taxes across the board 15 percent; small businesses with gross receipts of a $100,000 or less no longer have to pay business taxes in the city of Los Angeles.”
Greuel’s effort, according to her biography on smarttvoter.com, “eliminated the business tax for more than 60 percent of the city’s businesses and made the tax system more equitable with neighboring jurisdictions. The reforms have saved Los Angeles businesses nearly $100 million since their inception.”
In her three and a half years as controller, Greuel has sounded the alarm on all kinds of governmental laxity and financial abuse. One of the most startling concerned her release of an audit showing that millions of gallons of fuel had been consumed at city fueling sites with no record of where it was going. It meant that $7 million worth of gasoline was missing and had not been accounted for.
Eric Garcetti is the embodiment of diversity. He’s studied in Europe, and worked in Africa and Burma. He has a district that includes enclaves of Latinos, Filipinos, Armenians, Thais and others. He has lived in the Valley, but now lives in Silver Lake. His grandparents and great-grandparents grew up in East Los Angeles, but his father grew up in South Los Angeles. He has Russian-Jewish, Mexican-Italian and Irish blood running through his veins.
“You can plop me down anywhere in this 4-million-person metropolis, and I have a personal and intense connection,” Garcetti likes to say.
Garcetti speaks Spanish, and practices Judaism. Aside from being a professor, he’s also a Jazz pianist and, like his dad, a photographer.
Even though Garcetti’s dad, Gil, served 32 years in the city’s district attorney’s office–two terms as district attorney–Garcetti says he had no early desire to be in politics.
“People assume I grew up in politics, but my dad didn’t run for district attorney until the year I graduated from college,” he says. “The same year I won the Rhodes Scholarship is the year he won. At elementary, junior high, high school I was just some anonymous kid in Los Angeles.”
Garcetti spent his undergraduate years at Columbia University, and he directed a group called Black Men for Anita Hill.
The group’s purpose was to bring together African American professors in defense of the embattled African American Oklahoma University law professor who had charged during Senate Judiciary Confirmation hearings that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her when he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. However, the Senate went on to confirm Thomas as the second African American justice of the Supreme Court, succeeding Thurgood Marshall.
While at Columbia, Garcetti met and befriended Ben Jealous, now president of the NAACP. Jealous, a Rhodes Scholar, encouraged Garcetti to apply for the scholarship, which he was awarded on his second try.
Garcetti has served four terms as councilman for the 13th District, the most he can serve. In March 2013, another councilperson will be voted in to take his seat, and Garcetti is hoping to be well on his way to becoming mayor during the same election. (More than likely, no one will get 50 percent of the vote, so there will be a runoff election.)
It may be due to his own extensive travels that Garcetti views Los Angeles as “the most global city.”
“Los Angeles is the most diverse collection of human beings that’s ever been assembled in history,” he says. “If you look at the number of countries and ethnicities and languages–people come from all across America, all across the world. I would say it is the most global city we’ve ever experienced. But it also is a place where people understand neighborhood better than anywhere else.”
Garcetti says he wants to get the city back on track, something he feels he can do as mayor.
Like most candidates, he sees jobs and the economy as the greatest challenges. “I think we, right now, face the toughest economic climate in my lifetime in Los Angeles, and our No. 1 challenge is getting people back to work. In all communities, in all neighborhoods.”
His formula for restoring business is to cut the red tape, including getting rid of the city’s business tax, and use government assistance–economic development money, tax credits–to support key industries that are going to grow.
Jan Perry is all about building, and she has the resume to show for it. She has been a mover and shaker behind the Staple Center, L.A. Live, the Nokia, and the JW Marriott, which were all in the downtown portion of her 9th District. Building means jobs, and Perry claims 90,000 over the past 10 years. So it is not surprising that she is a big supporter of building the Farmers Field football stadium downtown.
“One of the reasons I’m excited about the possibility of a stadium is because it will bring 20,000 new jobs,” she says.
Perry has also been the force behind establishing the Downtown Women’s Center, a home for elderly, homeless women downtown, the Dunbar Village, Somerville I and II apartments, a new City Hall at 43rd and Central Avenue (“a $12-million environmentally friendly building”) new grocery stores at 20th and Central and Adams and Central. And she expresses pride in such 9th District projects as the Augustus Hawkins Wetland Park and the South Los Angeles Wetland Park.
“Right now I’m building a project on Vermont (multigenerational housing for grandparents caring for their grandchildren), the first of its kind,” she says.
Perry came west as a teen to attend USC in 1974. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in public administration. In 1990, she “was offered a position as planning deputy” in the office of then-Councilman Mike Woo. Few people know that Perry speaks Spanish, which helps her with her large Spanish-speaking constituency, and a small group of immigrants credit her with establishing a large area where they can grow and sell produce. And like her mother and father, who were both mayors of a tiny suburb near Cleveland, Ohio, where she grew up, Perry wants to be mayor.
After almost 12 years as councilwoman for the city’s 9th District, Perry can’t reduce her political career to one major accomplishment. But she adds: “I would say that there are a number of housing units that I have shepherded through . . . . In 2013, it will be up to 5,000. The fact that I have been able to complete projects, both large and small, that have put 90,000 people back to work I think is major.”
“The Downtown Women’s Center, a beautiful building that houses 77 elderly homeless women. It’s such a beautiful project that people take tours just to come and see it. So there’s a lot to be proud of. I can’t nail it down to one thing. That’s just a partial list. I’ve done a lot. I mean I surprise myself sometimes.”
Beside being African American, she is the only female on the City Council.
Perry sees the core of the city’s problems, with its cutbacks in services and $72-million budget deficit, as being a lack of jobs. Although she is optimistic about the future, she believes the city may have to ride it out for the next two years.
Perry believes her “strong sense of pragmatism, ability to reflect people’s needs for housing, or transportation or more retail in the neighborhood, more jobs and to be able to translate that into things that are deliverable. . . .” are her best qualifications for being mayor.
Kevin James grew up in Norman, Okla., and Texas. At the University of Oklahoma, he studied accounting, and he holds a law degree from the University of Houston. In 1987, at 23 years old, he headed West to what he calls “the land of opportunity.”
In 1988, he joined the huge global law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, before being hired by the U.S. Department of Justice as an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. He remained with the department for three and a half years before joining the entertainment firm of Lavely & Singer.
James has been characterized as a political outsider and a gadfly with little chance of winning. He believes the fact that he has never held public office is not a major hindrance to his quest to be mayor. As a talk show host on radio stations 790 KABC and 870 KRLA, he has covered government for years and evinces a thorough knowledge of its inner workings.
He points out that he is the only lawyer in the field and has a background as a prosecutor. “No one in the mayor’s race even has a business degree,” he said.
The “openly gay candidate” points to his more than six years’ experience as both vice-chair and co-chair of AIDS Project Los Angeles as another plus. At the time, it was the largest locally based nonprofit in the city; a $20 million a year agency.
James identifies the city’s No. 1 problem as the lack of employment, and he lays most of the blame at the doorstep of city government, which he says “has run private business and small business out of Los Angeles. Our leadership in California, and more locally, in Los Angeles, has created this environment that says no to private business.”
“There are two primary problems,” says James. “One is the gross receipts tax and the business tax structure in the city. The other is the permitting process . . . , and then there is the third arm that is believed to be, and I tend to agree, a corrupt City Hall . . . what the Wall Street Journal calls the second most corrupt regional government in the country.”
As proof of corruption, James cites a lack of outcry from city leaders when John Noguez, county assessor was charged with giving huge tax breaks to political supporters; the scandal involving the so-called “Gold Card Desk,” where council members were allowed to fix parking tickets for constituents, and the federal investigation of the building and safety department. He also notes the lack of affordable housing “and what this City Council has allowed to happen with some of their big-time, corporate, crony developer friends and donors” and what he sees as “a massive shift away affordable housing into what many of their favored developer friends want.”
The fact that he has collected only a fraction of the funds needed to mount a credible campaign is not bothersome to him. James says most of his funds will come in after the presidential election in November, when he will gain much greater support from Republicans. What he has collected thus far has come from small grassroots contributions and he claims he doesn’t have “the debt-load that his opponents have to special interests.”
“My theme is to make L.A. great again, but my vision is to make L.A. work again. Nobody thinks L.A. works. It wasn’t that long ago that people did.”